Best ATV Winches: Our Top Picks for Making Off-Roading Easier

Find the right winch for your off-roading needs with our handy guide

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Off-roading is a great hobby, but it can lead to a few sticky situations when your ATV gets caught in rough terrain. An ATV winch is the right tool to get you out of trouble. Winches come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s easy to get lost in the variety. Our handy guide makes finding the best ATV winch for your needs an absolute breeze, so read on!

  • Best Overall
    Smittybilt XRC Winch
    Summary
    Summary
    A powerful, high-quality motor and steel cable make this our top pick for winching your ATV.
    Pros
    Pros
    6.6 HP amphibious motor, 9,500-pound load capacity, three-stage planetary gear system, and completely waterproof (usable in all weather conditions).
    Cons
    Cons
    It sucks a lot of power from your engine’s battery, so you need to use short bursts or you might find yourself stranded.
  • Best Value
    Champion 3000-lb ATV/UTV Winch Kit
    Summary
    Summary
    Our best value pick for its great cost to feature ratio. The ideal pick for the infrequent off-roader.
    Pros
    Pros
    1 HP permanent magnet motor, 3,000-pound pulling capacity, planetary gear system, and dynamic brake.
    Cons
    Cons
    Doesn’t come with a mounting plate and can be difficult to operate with gloved hands.
  • Honorable Mention
    Superwinch UT3000
    Summary
    Summary
    Powerful and easy to use, this Superwinch comes with a 12-foot safety remote so you can stand back while it’s doing the heavy lifting.
    Pros
    Pros
    1.2 HP motor with 3,000-pound pull rating, 40 feet of strong steel cable, in-and-out power loading, and full metal differential planetary gear train.
    Cons
    Cons
    Compared to some other steel cables, this one seems more prone to fraying, which can lead to injuries over time.

Benefits of an ATV Winch

  • They can free your ATV. If you’re a frequent off-roader, you’ll find that your ATV can get stuck in the sand, mud, or another terrain. That’s where a winch comes in handy—you can get your ATV unstuck from almost any situation.
  • They’re multipurpose. Although built especially for ATV use, ATV winches can come in handy in a couple of situations. If you ever need some pulling power while you’re out and about in nature, a winch will be the tool to fall back on.
  • They’re powerful. Gone are the days of having to pull and push your ATV by hand, hoping you’re strong enough to load it back on the truck. A winch will do all the hard work for you, letting you enjoy the adrenaline rush of your hobby.
  • They can be semi-permanent. If you’re not a fan of permanently attaching something to your vehicle than a semi-permanent winch offers no commitment while delivering lots of power. It’s perfect if you’re only off-roading once in a while.

Types of ATV Winches

Steel Winch Cable

Steel is a strong, hardworking alloy that needs very little ongoing maintenance and is always good to go when it’s needed. Since metal is a great conductor, steel wire easily radiates heat away, keeping the winch cool while in use. That being said, it’s also heavy-duty and needs a higher-powered motor to work properly, which can put stress on your ATV’s front suspension. Steel also becomes dangerously uncontrollable if the cable snaps mid-winch.

Synthetic Winch Rope

A synthetic rope is lighter and easier to handle when compared to the steel cable option. It also doesn’t hold kinetic energy, so if it snaps mid-winch it won’t whiplash back like a steel cable. That being said, it’s also not as robust as steel and will fray and wear down over time. It requires ongoing maintenance, including cleaning, drying, and spooling, making it more costly in terms of upkeep than steel.

Top Brands

Smittybilt

Based in Compton, California, Smittybilt recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. That equals a solid 60 years of experience making powerful winches and other automotive gear. They pride themselves on creating easy-to-use winches that don’t skimp on pulling power, such as this consumer favorite, the XRC winch.

Rugcel

The Rugcel Winch Company is an online-based manufacturer and retailer that aims to create great products for consumers. Founded more than a decade ago, its products continue to evolve into better, more powerful winches and other automotive accessories. A top seller is this waterproof model.

Champion Power Equipment

With winches created for nearly everything you can imagine, Champion’s goal is to make sure you have the lifting power you need for any situation. A global company, Champion has headquarters in the United States, Canada, and Europe. One of its best sellers includes this 3,000-lb winch kit.

ATV Winch Pricing

  • Under $100: Budget options can be found in this price range. In general, they’ll be less robust, less powerful, and less durable than more expensive options, but they will get the job done if you don’t want to invest that much cash.
  • $100-$200: At the mid-range, you can choose between a wide variety of quality winches (although a synthetic rope is pricier than steel cable). You’ll find powerful motors and great features in this class, along with sleek designs and permanent or semi-permanent mounting options.
  • Over $200: This price range is for serious enthusiasts who go off-roading every weekend. If you expect your ATV winch to get a lot of use, this is the way to go. Powerful motors, quality cable, and durable mounting options round out the qualities in these products.

Key Features

Motor

You’ll want to look for balance here because a powerful motor will get your ATV moving, but a motor that’s too powerful will blow out your engine. Check the specs of your engine carefully, and compare it to the rating of the winch.

Pulling Power

It’s critical to check the maximum load and weight of your ATV. You’ll want a winch that can handle this weight plus a little extra. This will ensure that environmental factors won’t keep you from getting your four-wheeler unstuck.

Mounting

The important question to ask yourself is, how often do you need your winch? Follow that up with whether or not it would bother you to have one as a permanent fixture on your vehicle. Then you can narrow down your options. Removable and permanent mounting options exist. Removable ones tend to lose power under pressure, and permanent ones are just that, permanent.

Other Considerations

  • Rope Versus Cable: Either option comes with pros and cons. If you’re looking for the sturdiest option, you’ll want to grab a cable winch. However, rope winches offer more flexibility and are lighter weight.
  • Safety: Staying safe while using your winch is an important consideration. Most winches come with a whole host of safety features, allowing you to operate the machine from a safe distance and preventing overloading of the winch system. Watch out for these features when making a purchasing decision.
  • Materials: Make sure that your new winch is fashioned from solid materials that have been put together well. Good craftsmanship is critical to being able to safely operate your winch. It’ll also ensure that your new product lasts a long time.

Best ATV Winch Reviews & Recommendations 2019

Best ATV Winch Overall: Smittybilt 97495 XRC Winch

Smittybilt 97495 XRC Winch
Amazon

Our top pick is this super-powerful Smittybilt that has a 9,500-pound load capacity and is packed with a ton of great features that make using it a breeze. A 6.6 HP amphibious motor and a three-stage planetary gear system deliver power when and where you need it. As a completely waterproof product, you can use this winch even in a rainstorm or close to a lake—water and humidity won’t damage it, giving you more ATV-ing options.

As a complete kit, you also get all the wiring required for the installation, a mounting plate, and a hook strap. A remote is also included for easy control while standing at the appropriate safety distance. The steel cable is strong and powder-coated for a sleek finish that keeps fraying at bay. It also winds faster than the competition, all while being rated to a higher pound load.

What we didn’t like about this winch is the electrical system. There are no major problems except that the winch tends to really put a strain on your battery due to its high power. That translates to short bursts of winching rather than one long stretch to save your battery and avoid getting you stranded.

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Best Value ATV Winch: Champion 3000-lb ATV/UTV Winch Kit

Champion 3000-lb ATV/UTV Winch Kit
Amazon

Our best value winner is aptly named. This Champion 3,000-pound winch comes with lots of features at a great price. The powerful motor is a one-horsepower, permanent magnet motor, which can pull loads up to the aforementioned 3,000-pound limit. Forty-nine feet of super-duty aircraft cable gives you plenty to work with, even in sticky situations where a long lead is the only thing that can save you from getting completely stranded. The efficient planetary gear and dynamic braking systems are high-quality features usually only included in more expensive systems, and the two-year warranty will keep your winch in good repair.

Another feature we like is its relatively quiet winching system. Even when pulling the maximum load, this winch won’t groan like some other, more expensive ones do. The quality and craftsmanship are also surprising for the price, so this little Champion should last you quite a while. 

The drawbacks to this one are twofold. One, it doesn’t come with a mounting plate, so you’ll have to purchase that separately. This can be a little inconvenient and drive up the overall cost. The other drawback is that it’s a little difficult to operate with gloved hands due to its compact size. 

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Best ATV Winch Honorable Mention: Superwinch UT3000

Superwinch UT3000
Amazon

This Superwinch product deserves the honorable mention thanks to its safety features and impressive performance. A rubber, handheld remote with a 12-foot cord is included for safe use so that you can stand back while the winch is doing its job. The 1.2 HP motor has a 3,000-pound pull rating and 40 feet of steel cable, allowing you to power load in and out. A full metal differential planetary gear train, with a pull and turn free-spooling clutch and dynamic braking, is durable and powerful at the same time.

What we also like about this product is its weather-sealed solenoid and circuit breaker protection, so if you’re ever unexpectedly caught in the rain, this winch won’t fail you. The mounting plate is also included in the kit and can be installed with a removable clevis pin and latch hook. Overheating protection, auto shut-off, and a winch hook strap round out the feature set.

The cable that comes included with the winch is a thick steel cable that looks durable and solidly made. However, we noticed that it’s more prone to fraying than some other steel cables on the market, which is something to watch out for to avoid damage and injury. Other than that, this ATV winch is a great pick.

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Tips

  • If you’ve got a steel winch cable, keep in mind that you should never handle it with your bare hands. Always wear thick gloves when winching, and don’t allow the cable to slide through your hands to avoid potential injuries from fraying or snapping.
  • Although winch and tow cables look pretty similar, they’re designed for very different purposes. That means, never tow with a winch cable, as it can damage the winch drum and the bushings, resulting in a costly repair and lots of hassle.
  • Never hold onto the hook end of the winch cable. It might be tempting to grip it while it’s rolling up, but you might find yourself in a sticky situation with your fingers pinched in the winch drum. To avoid just that, most companies make winch hook straps.
  • To avoid overheating the sensitive winch electronics, you’ll only want to winch for brief spurts and not for long periods of time. Pull for about a minute, then take a quick break and let the components cool down.
  • Winch cables can easily damage trees, so if you find yourself with only a tree as a tow point, make sure to use a strap at least three inches wide to wrap around the tree instead.

FAQs

Q: How do I install my ATV winch?

A: It’s a fairly straightforward process, but it does take some time and an extra set of hands. It’s important to start off by reading the installation instructions specific to your ATV winch before you begin and to follow the directions. In most cases, you’ll need to install a mounting plate onto your bumper and hook up the wiring to your engine.

Q: What’s the typical feet per minute line speed of an ATV winch?

A: That depends a lot on the type and quality of the winch itself. A good rule of thumb is about 10 feet per minute at 3,500. Most good winches will be able to deliver something in that range.

Q: Do I need to purchase the mounting plate separately?

A: In most cases, the mounting plate and most of the accessories needed for installation come included in the packaging of the winch you decide to buy. That being said, budget options might come with less, so check the product description carefully.

Q: How do I hook up my winch cable to my ATV?

A: The safest way to do this is with a mounting plate on your ATV. That will protect the front suspension and evenly apply force, which also helps to prevent unexpected snapping of the wire rope or cable. In a pinch, you can attach the cable to a sturdy beam on your ATV, but we don’t recommend doing that often.

Final Thoughts

Our top pick is the Smittybilt XRC Winch. It’s a solid choice with a powerful winching motor and a high load rating at 9,500 pounds.

If you’re looking for a winch that won’t break the bank, check out the Champion 3000-lb ATV/UTV Winch Kit. It functions surprisingly well for the price.

Do you have a favorite ATV winch? What did you think of our picks? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.